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Running toward the future: Innovations from Nike

Nike’s new Flyknit line of shoes was discussed in this post from Co.DESIGN yesterday. As a runner, I’m eager to check these shoes out…even though I haven’t run in a pair of Nike in years.

Professionally, I found several things of interest in the chatter that emerged yesterday about the Flyknit shoes. In particular, the way Nike approached the project echoed many of the things we hear our colleagues at Strategos recommend.

Take this quote from the CoDESIGN article:

Flyknit was powered by athletes’ input, says Tony Bignell, director of footwear innovation at Nike’s Innovation Kitchen. And what they wanted, head-scratchingly enough, was a sock. “A sock fits great, feels snug, goes unnoticed, and you get no irritation,” Bignell explains.“So the idea was, how do you engineer a sock into a high-performance shoe?

This points to several innovation principles Strategos advocates:

First, insights matter…and you need to extract your customers unmet and unarticulated needs to help “get to the future first” as Stategos once put it. Nike clearly did this and uncovered the fact that runners were craving shoes that mimicked the qualities of socks.

Second, innovation means challenging orthodoxies–those deeply held beliefs about how your company or industry operates. As Strategos has explained in Innovation to the Core and elsewhere, surfacing and challenging orthodoxies is a key step in the innovation process. For Nike, this mean letting go of the idea that running shoes are given their shape and support structure by stitching together lots of small pieces of material. Again to quote from the Co.DESIGN article, Ben Shaffer of Nike said, “We had no interest in just creating a shoe that looked knit…We were challenging a fundamental way of making shoes.”

So what was the new model going to be? Nike assembled the technologies necessary to knit a nearly seamless one-piece upper for its shoe. (See here for a cool image of the upper before its attached to the sole).  This means the structure and support for the shoe is actually knitted in. This knittingindustry.com article says that Nike holds several patents related to knitting one-piece uppers and describes the Flyknit’s construction as “a complex combination of modern flat knitting techniques to create a two dimensional component with built in support which can easily be manipulated into a three dimensional upper for attachment to a sole unit.” Ok…maybe that’s a little more than we need to know, but it points to the power of matching unique consumer insights (runners want sock-like shoes) with proprietary technological capabilities.

Finally, the word is that Nike has been working on this project for four years, which made me think about innovating during recessions. This timeline means that Nike initiated this project as the wheels were coming off the global economy and maintained its commitment to it during the worst of the Great Recession. Strategos has written on this topic…see for example this article at ChiefExecutive.net which suggests that recessions offer the opportunity to get ahead of competitors or this article that states, “Historically, corporate winners that emerge from a downturn are those that have changed the game, not stayed the course.” It will be interesting to look back five or ten years from now, and see if the Flyknit line is the gamechanger it looks like it could be sitting here today…

~Chris Carbone


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Recent Technology Foresight Research

Subscribers to Innovaro Technology Forecast receive new research every week and access to archived research briefs. The following are a some of latest topics and issues we’ve been tracking:

Wireless Electricity
2012 | Technology Foresight Brief
Wireless transmission of electricity has been a dream for nearly a century, dating back to Nikola Tesla’s vision of a wireless World Energy Grid. Although Tesla’s visions never materialized, recent technology innovations have demonstrated the feasibility of efficiently powering devices wirelessly. This Technology Foresight brief explores the state of wireless power technology and its future potential.

Interface Innovation 
2012 | Technology Foresight Brief
The analog controls that accompanied the rise of the personal computer—buttons, switches, keyboard, joystick, and mouse—allowed consumers to interact with their devices in a variety of ways. But as personal computing devices have grown smaller, smarter, and more mobile—and as they are used for a wider variety of applications—new needs are arising. This brief explores the state of interface technology, emerging tools and applications, and the directions in which interfaces may move.

Image: RachelH (Flickr)

Electric Vehicles 2020 
2012 | Technology Foresight Brief
Electric vehicles (EVs) face a complex future over the next decade. While the number of EVs on the road in the US, Japan, China, and Europe is expected to increase significantly in coming years, EVs will still comprise a relatively small portion of the overall market for new vehicles in 2020. This Technology Foresight brief uses a variety of recent reports to explore the prospects of EVs over the next decade and the resulting business implications.

Technology Trajectories: An Overview 
2012 | Technology Foresight Brief
Innovaro identified 10 key themes that will help define consumers’ technology experience though 2020 and beyond. These 10 “technology trajectories” will equip consumers with a wholly new “toolkit” of devices, services, and capabilities, and will set the context within which consumers go about their everyday activities. Continue reading


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WEF’s top 10 emerging technologies for 2012

The World Economic Forum put up a list of its top 10 emerging technologies for 2012 on its blog today.

By fact of its title (the “10 emerging technology for 2012“) it’s positioned as a nearer-term set of items than what we presented in our Technology Trajectories research, but no less interesting…and hey, things move fast today and all ten of these areas are clearly in motion, so why shouldn’t we expect interesting developments in each one over the next year or so. Continue reading


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Bioinspired Material Made from Shrimp Shells and Silk

Flickr - D Sharon Pruitt

This article in the Harvard Gazette focuses on “shrilk” — a new material made from discarded shrimp shells and the proteins found in silk. It’s another great example of a trend we call Biomimicry in Design. Here’s one way we’ve described the trend in the past:

Biomimicry in Design: There are numerous areas in which biology-inspired technologies offer hope of breakthrough innovation, including energy, functional materials, sensing, and healthcare. There is optimism for the development of a broad array of new technologies utilizing and/ or based on biological processes.

Read here for a bit more on biomimicry, the science of looking to nature to inform how we design systems, processes, products, etc…

The shrilk article deserves a look too and it has a variety of potential benefits that could make it — and other bioinspired materials like it viable substitutes for plastic in the mid-term future. According to Javier Fernandez and Donald Ingber, who are working working on shrilk:

  • it’s “thin, clear, flexible, and strong as aluminum at half the weight”
  • it’s low-cost, it makes use of waste shrimp shells…
  • it’s biodegradable, and actually the components are often used as fertilizer, so it can actually enrich the soil as it breaks down
  • the ingredients used in shrilk have already been approved by the FDA

Possible applications? The article mentions healthcare applications including:

  • sutures that dissolve in the body
  • protective coverings for wounds and burns
  • it may also find application in regenerative medicine–e.g., it could serve as a scaffold for cell to grow on

They also suggest that if the manufacturing process can be simplified (and presumably made less expensive), then shrilk might be a viable substitute for plastics in general consumer and home applications.

The team’s research appears in a recent issues of Advanced Material, see the abstract quoted below…and keep your eyes open for more bioinspired materials in the future.

A material inspired by natural insect cuticle and composed of chitosan and fibroin is created. The material exhibits the strength of an aluminum alloy at half its weight, while being clear, biocompatible, biodegradable, and micromoldable. The bioinspired laminate exhibits strength and toughness that are ten times greater than the unstructured component blend and twice that of its strongest constituent.


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Trends and Factors Shaping American Families

American family life is in flux and will be transformed in coming years by a variety of factors…from generational shifts to the economic reset brought on by the Great Recession.

Over the past several months, subscribers to Innovaro’s Global Lifestyles and Technology Foresight projects have been reading about the ways in which the American family will be reshaped over the next decade. This Thursday, July 28, we will be conducting a webinar inspired by this content. Presenters include Chris Carbone (Drivers Impacting US Families in the Next Decade), Kristin Nauth (Trends in Marriage and Emerging Family Types), Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais authors of Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America (Millennials and the Future of American Families), Matt Sollenberger (Technology and Tomorrow’s Family), Claudia Goffan President & CEO of Target Latino (Understanding American Families: A Focus on US Hispanics)

The following are a selection of titles and abstracts from the project. Guests are welcome to request a sample brief as part of their introduction to our research.

US Marriage: Socioeconomic Trends and Family Outcomes
Marriage is changing dramatically in the US, as marriage rates continue to fall and attitudes and behaviors around marriage splinter along socioeconomic, racial, and generational lines. But Americans still overwhelmingly say that family is both the most important and most satisfying element of their lives.

American Interracial Marriage: Accelerated Blending
Americans are increasingly marrying people of other ethnic groups or races. This trend has been growing since the 1960s, and one in seven American newlyweds now marries someone in another group. This brief analyzes this trend and its business implications, and is based on “Marrying Out,” a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center, as well as analysis of Census data.

Are Changing Families Changing Children?
Changes in US marital patterns are significantly changing the day-to-day family circumstances in which children live. At the same time, a growing body of research shows that what matters most to a child’s emotional and psychological well-being is not the type of family structure but the levels of stability and social, emotional, and financial support within the family. This brief is part of a Global Lifestyles series exploring trends in marriage and family in the US.

Hispanic American Demography: Five New Trends
New results from the 2010 Census reveal a number of unexpected trends among Hispanics in the US. This brief examines five trends related to the changing demographics of Hispanic consumers and what they imply for businesses.

The Rise of New Family Types in the US
The number of nontraditional families in the US is soaring, and families are becoming far more diverse. There are at least seven new family types on the rise, while the classic formation of married-couple-with-kids now comprises less than 20% of American households. While Americans are becoming more tolerant of new family types, this tolerance varies significantly by demographic profile and value set.

Multigenerational Households: Together Again
More Americans are living in multigenerational family households. In a “sharp reversal” of a four-decade trend to living independently, about 45% of US homes now include two or more adult generations, or (in a very small share) grandparents and grandchildren with no parent present. The return to multigenerational households will impact US consumers, changing lifestyles and spending patterns at both the household and individual levels.

The New Hispanic-Americans: Native-Borns on the Rise
The tidal wave of Latin American immigrants who arrived in the 1980s through 2000s is being superseded in numbers and influence by a new generation: their US-born children. Today’s native-born Hispanics already number 30 million, and by 2020 are expected to make up some 70% of all Hispanic-Americans. This brief explores the shifts in values and priorities of these native-born Hispanics and what it means for their role as consumers.

Income Inequality in the US: The Great Divergence?
The US has experienced a three-decade trend during which income inequality rose steadily even though the US enjoyed two periods of record economic growth. The causes of the rising income disparity are intensively debated. A close examination of all possible drivers provides insight into the nature and future of this trend. Using these drivers as a lens, this Global Lifestyles brief looks at the present and future of income inequality and assesses the implications for business.

Millennial Values: Technology-Friendly and Tolerant
Like all generations, Millennials are indisputably distinctive in many important ways. From technology-centric lifestyles to liberal—but nuanced—social mores, Millennial values augur significant future changes in the American social, political, and business landscapes. This brief analyzes data from the Pew Research Center on Millennials’ views on topics ranging from technology and marriage to politics and religion

Generation Z: America’s Youngest Generation
Generation Z is America’s youngest generation, encompassing those born between 1999 and 2009. Much has already been made over this generation’s tech-dominated upbringing, but Gen Z will be defined by more than just technology. This brief explores their early formative experiences, emerging behavioral trends, and implications for the future of Generation Z.

Update: This part of the webinar is open to the public. For more information about viewing the other sections, please contact mike.vidikan@innovaro.com


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Trends impacting Energy and Natural Resources

Innovaro Insights & Research tracks trends that will impact businesses, consumers, and societies around the world. The following are a collection of Energy and Natural Resource trends that will affect many industries including Agriculture, Food and Beverage, CPG, Automotive, Air & Space, Energy, and many more.

Green Chemistry in the US
July 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
In its 2011 report, The Economic Benefits of a Green Chemical Industry in the United States, the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts lays out the case for greening the US chemical sector. This Technology Foresight brief summarizes the finding of the PERI report, and analyzes its implications for business.

Energy Signals and Signposts
June 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
In 2008, Shell released two scenarios that explored how the world might address the simultaneous challenges of reducing emissions while meeting rising energy demand. In early 2011, Shell released Signals and Signposts, a report that reflects on the trends and events of the past three years, as a way to update and refresh the scenarios. This brief explores the Signals and Signposts report, and examines the business implications of ongoing changes in the energy market and global economy.

Decoupling Growth and the Environment
June 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
Policymakers and experts are looking for ways to increase prosperity and improve human well-being while reducing resource use. That is the essence of the idea of decoupling: enabling economic growth and expanded prosperity, but in a way that is increasingly independent of levels of resource consumption. This brief describes the concept of decoupling, discusses several case studies from around the world, and explores the business implications of the emerging concept.
Clean Energy Trends to 2020
June 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
The global clean-energy market for biofuels, wind power, and solar PV is on course to expand significantly over the coming decade, and could to grow by 85% to approach $350 billion by 2020. This is one of the key forecasts of Clean Energy Trends 2011, an annual report published by Clean Edge, Inc., a pro–clean energy research firm. This Technology Foresight brief covers its forecasts and five clean-energy trends.
Technology and Innovation Futures: Growth Opportunities for the 2020s
May 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
A recent UK foresight report identified seven future opportunity areas and the technology clusters that could help support their development over the next two decades. The opportunity areas are: manufacturing on demand, smart infrastructure, the second Internet revolution, the energy transition, new materials, regenerative medicine, and intellectual property. This Technology Foresight brief explores these forecasts and highlights the implications for business.
Peak Phosphorus
May 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
Awareness about the importance of phosphorus to the global food system is growing, and the notion of “peak phosphorus” is beginning to emerge alongside “peak oil” as a resource scarcity issue in public debates. This awareness and ensuing concern about the potential depletion of phosphorus is helping to drive innovative approaches for reducing, conserving, and recycling phosphorus.
The Global Scramble for Farmland
May 2011 | Global Lifestyles Brief
Lured by available land, permissive hosts, and inexpensive labor, World 2 governments and global businesses are leasing or buying huge swaths of farmland in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America in the pursuit of food security or simple profit. This Global Lifestyles brief explores this growing practice and examines the implications of this trend for business and consumers.
The Next Four Decades
April 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
The northern regions of the world may become more economically and strategically important over the next four decades. These are the conclusions of The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future, by University of California professor Laurence Smith. This brief examines the book’s forecasts related to demography, natural resources, globalization, and climate change, and explores their implications for business.
Doing Business with Africa
February 2011 | Global Lifestyles Brief
Over the next three decades, Africa will likely play a critical role in global growth. Economic growth across the continent is expected to accelerate, and Africa’s economic growth will be especially impressive in the sectors of infrastructure, construction, resource extraction and processing, agriculture, and consumer-facing industries.
Artificial Photosynthesis
February 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
The energy needs of living organisms are met directly or indirectly through photosynthesis, a process that converts sunlight into fuel. Renewable energy strategies already convert sunlight to electricity with photovoltaic cells and convert biomass—a product of photosynthesis—to fuel such as ethanol. But there are other paths to using the sun’s energy. An area of nascent research seeks to mimic photosynthesis itself—to convert sunlight directly to fuel.
The Future of Urban Mobility
January 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
Mobility that is accessible, affordable, and sustainable is one of the major challenges facing cities in the 21st century. Megacities on the Move, a study jointly developed by the Forum for the Future, Embarq, Vodafone, and the FIA Foundation, presents four scenarios for the future of urban mobility. This Technology Foresight brief summarizes the key elements of the scenarios and assesses the implications for business.
Energy for Power Generation
January 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
Power generation is dominated by fossil fuel plants, globally—but that picture may begin to shift . There will be increased interest in alternative energy sources for power generation, including solar, wind, and clean coal technologies. This brief is the second in a two-part series on the future of alternative energy. It analyzes forecasts from the Boston Consulting Group about use of alternative energy for power generation and explores their implication for business.
Energy for Transport
January 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
The transportation sector plays an integral role in global energy consumption. In 2010, it accounted for 61% of global oil consumption and was responsible for 23% of global carbon emissions. This brief is the first in a two-part series on the future of alternative energy. It analyzes forecasts from the Boston Consulting Group about alternative energy use for transport, and explores their implications for business.
Post-Partisan Energy
January 2011 | Technology Foresight Brief
Post-Partisan Power, a proposal by scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Breakthrough Institute, is an effort to find a path toward the goals of clean and secure energy sources. It attempts to navigate a course through competing American conceptions of desirable energy futures and their relationship to security and environmental protection. This brief explores the proposal and its implications for business.
Autonomic Cities
December 2010 | Technology Foresight Brief
Cities are growing larger and more complex, and will face increasing calls for efficiency, transparency, and sustainability. Urban spaces will need to grow “smarter” if they are to meet these demands in coming decades. Smart systems—with intelligence is built into the infrastructure—are beginning to emerge and influence how city services are delivered, but the costs of installation or retrofit are high. Enter private investment.
Mobility 2.0
December 2010 | Technology Foresight Brief
Many consumers who previously relied exclusively or predominantly on personal autos to meet their mobility needs may start expanding their “mobility mix” to include a range of mobility products and services. This shift would significantly challenge automakers’ current business model, but could provide intriguing new opportunities. This brief explores the business implications of this future—presented in IBM’s recent study, Advancing Mobility: The New Frontier of Smarter Transportation.
Microalgal Biofuels
December 2010 | Technology Foresight Brief
Recent advances in systems biology, genetic engineering, and biorefining techniques suggest that microalgal biofuels could emerge as an economical and sustainable fuel source between 2020 and 2025. Estimates by the Algal Biomass Organization, a US-based industry group, are even more optimistic, with predictions that algal biofuels could emerge and entirely replace ethanol in the US by 2020. This brief explores the potential, challenges, and current status of efforts to develop biofuels based on algae.
Consumers and the Smart Grid
December 2010 | Global Lifestyles Brief
As the smart grid is deployed it will have real impacts on consumers’ lives. It will change the kinds of appliances they buy, provoke them to communicate more regularly with utilities, and give them incentives to more actively manage energy use. There’s only one catch: US consumers don’t seem to be sold on the concept, and some are pushing back on issues such as data privacy, much to the surprise of energy companies.
Cities Address Sustainability
November 2010 | Technology Foresight Brief
Cities are emerging as indispensable players in the struggle for global sustainability. They create and are strongly impacted by sustainability issues, but also have huge potential to help mitigate, adapt to, and solve issues related to sustainability. Indeed, while national and international agreements remain elusive, cities are stepping up to create policies and standards and become the testbeds for more sustainable design, technology, and lifestyles.
Second-Generation Biofuels
November 2010 | Technology Foresight Brief
The biofuels in commercial production in 2010 are first-generation (1G) biofuels and are made from food crops such as grains, sugar cane, and vegetable oils. In the coming years, second-generation (2G) biofuels made from non-edible energy crops and agricultural and forestry residue will move from pilot and demonstration projects to commercial production, and will largely replace 1G biofuels. They may also help biofuels transcend the food vs. fuel debate
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